Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Francesco Francavilla, and the issue is Zorro #18, which was published by Dynamite and is cover dated December 2009. Enjoy!
In 2008, Francavilla began drawing Matt Wagner’s new Zorro series, and for the first eight issues, he was colored by Adriano Lucas, and the results were pretty good. He took a break after issue #8, and then returned on issue #15, coloring himself, and the results were really excellent. This was the first time Francavilla was coloring himself, I think (I seem to recall Francavilla coming by the blog and confirming that), and with one exception that I’m not going to show (Garrison, a Wildstorm mini-series written by Jeff Mariotte that came out in 2010), he continued to color his own work. Let’s look at it, shall we?
We can see the difference in the coloring pretty much immediately – it was even more dramatic in issue #15, but I wanted to show this one because, well, you’ll see why below. Francavilla uses a lot of warm tones in the framing stories of this arc, which features a bunch of different people giving their impressions of Zorro, Rashomon-style. So in Panel 1, he uses cool blues as the people hurry toward the gathering so as to contrast it with the warmth of the fire. I don’t know what process Francavilla uses to color his artwork, but you’ll notice that there’s no digital sheen like we saw yesterday with Thomas’s coloring. I’m sure Francavilla digitally colors this – why wouldn’t he? – but the way he does it makes it look more natural. He doesn’t highlight any particular part of the artwork, he just uses shades to slowly move from the brightest part of the panel to the darker parts. He slowly moves from bright yellow to darker reds, which creates a feeling of depth as we move away from the fire. Francavilla’s rough pencil work helps with the coloring, too. Some artists’ styles work very well with a shinier coloring job, but Francavilla’s isn’t one of them. He uses rough lines and heavy blacks to throw a great deal of the panel into shadow, but as he has become more confident in his abilities, he realizes he doesn’t need as many details, so the people closest to the fire – the three people facing us – have been obscured by the light. Francavilla draws them from the shoulders up and lights their faces with changing shades as he moves upward. Behind them, he lays on the spot blacks to show that the people standing are even more poorly lit. This not only distances them from the fire but also implies that the fire isn’t terribly strong, as these people aren’t quite meeting in secret, but they don’t want to draw too much attention to themselves. It’s a nice trick.
One reason I picked this issue from Francavilla’s Zorro run is because of this magnificent double-page spread of our hero riding a tornado. Francavilla draws a tremendous tornado, using minimal linework but a lot of different colors to create the twister, giving it just enough definition and filling it in with tans, browns, and dusty smudges. He leads us from the narrator in the corner, which goes down to Zorro and toward the bottom of the tornado, which then leads us onto the next page. His perspective allows us to turn with the twister so that Zorro simply appears straight on but the onlookers at the bottom are shown from above. If we were looking at Zorro from their perspective, Zorro would be on his side, but the way Francavilla structures the page means we can see both points of view without it causing too much vertigo in the reader, because we expect twistiness with a tornado. Francavilla is still using heavy inks, but because he uses colors so well, he can ink judiciously in some places. The coloring is tremendous – during the “Zorro stories” in this arc, in which narrators tell others what they know about the hero, Francavilla uses red as the foundation and builds everything off of that – the backgrounds are usually red, which gives everything a lurid, pulpy feel. It was during this time that Francavilla began to show his interest in pulp stories – I imagine he had always been interested in them, but it didn’t come out in his art as much – and he shows it on this arc with his coloring. The blacks on Zorro give him an almost silky feel, in contrast to the harsher blacks in the lower right of the spectators and their shadows, which stretch into a fuzzy, rough miasma. In the inset panel, he brightens the background even more and links it to the snake’s eye and mouth, making the snake an even more imposing mythical figure and, by extension, its wielder. This is really a superb spread.
On the very next page, we get another nice scene. Francavilla is still basing the entire color scheme on red, and he uses the brisk black brushstrokes in Panel 1 as motion lines surrounding the snake as it flies into the bad dude’s face. In Panel 3, Francavilla gives us the lightning sword blade that expands outward to encompass the first three panels. Francavilla uses just enough lighting effects to give the blade a luminescence but not an overwhelming one. To counter the heat of the red background, Francavilla tinges the lightning with blue, giving it a border but also contrasting with the lurid red of the background with the bright heat of the lightning. He gives us a great Zorro in Panel 3, too, with the white eyes and angry mouth. He adds thick black strokes to shade his face, and that combined with the eyes and mouth make Zorro a hellish figure, which he’s supposed to be. Notice, too, that Francavilla switches back to the more comforting yellows and browns when we return to the storyteller. It’s a good transition.
In another story, the narrator believes Zorro is a nobleman (which, of course, he is), and Francavilla gives us this scene. Instead of drenching the page in red, he uses it in crucial places to establish that this is “fantasy,” but because it’s not a scene of Zorro kicking ass, it’s not as prevalent. Francavilla adds the nice touches of what a nobleman looks like in the mind of a peasant – he has the wonderfully curled mustache, the fringed tunic and hat, and the beautiful intricate curtains and bedspread. Francavilla uses more yellow, but in contrast to the warmer yellow of the fire, which implies a rustic simplicity, Zorro’s yellows are a bit brighter and brasher, signifying gold and wealth. It’s an interesting shift in tone. Francavilla draws the “fantasy” Zorro as much crueller than Diego, as well. The man telling this story does not admire Zorro, as he’s part of the caste that keeps him down, so he describes Zorro as “jaded,” and we see that in Panel 2, as Francavilla draws him with a rapacious look on his face and a leering smile. Zorro smiles a lot while he’s fighting bad guys because he holds them in contempt, and Francavilla plays on that to give us a view of Zorro that is slightly different from everyone else.
One more action sequence, because it’s awesome. In Panel 1, Zorro leaps off his horse as the puma crouches, ready to strike. Francavilla does a great job with the movement – he doesn’t show the entire horse or even the entire hero – Toronado (the horse) is zipping by, and Zorro is leaping off, so the Francavilla doesn’t isolate our view on them because it’s happening so fast. He wants to show the puma crouching, with its red eyes (to match the background, of course) and its teeth floating in a black maw. In Panel 2, we get the showdown with the puma – Francavilla puts the cat on a higher level than Zorro so that they’re looking at each other instead of Zorro looking down at the cat, which makes them more equal in ferocity. He draws the whip looping up across the panels above him, so I didn’t show it, but he draws Zorro in a wonderful stance that daunts the puma and makes it flee in Panel 3. I love the final panel, with the slashes of black in the sky and the brushstrokes of the grass through which the puma runs. It’s a very nice scene.
Finally, Francavilla completely changes the tone of the book in the final few pages. The fire has died, the peasants have left, and one peasant, who was spying on the rest of them, reveals himself as a soldier reporting back to his superior. I just wanted to show this because it’s clear that Francavilla found his color wheel and knew that blue and orange were nice complements to each other. This scheme has begun to dominate television, movies, and comics – I dare you to not find it on a show you watch, and once you start seeing it, it’s tough to not see it – but Francavilla does use it well here. The orange comes from the dying fire, while the deep blues are from the twilight, of course. It makes this scene a lot different from the rest of the book – it’s instantly cooler, and we intuitively get the idea that these men are more conniving and sinister than those we’ve seen before. Francavilla also considers the light source very well, fringing the two men nicely with orange and using the blacks well so that the blue doesn’t overwhelm everything. It’s a beautiful panel.
Francavilla kept getting higher and higher profile work, and of course the Big Two eventually noticed him. Tomorrow we’ll look at one of those high profile comics and see what he did with that. It should be fun! Fun is also what you’ll find in the archives!